1972 was a memorable year: Nixon was re-elected, it was the height of the Vietnam War (as well as when the Smiley Face icon became ridiculously popular), and pop culture hit some major peaks (Fosse’s Cabaret, Carole King’s Tapestry) as well as some questionable moments (The Poseidon Adventure? Gunne Sax prom dresses?) It was also the year I was 13 (I actually turned 13 late in 1971, but to my enormous surprise, there’s another Persephone writer my age who claimed that year!), so here are a few personal observations of that year.
Top news stories:
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- Start of the Watergate scandal (Five men arrested attempting to bug the DNC headquarters in the Watergate complex). A couple of personal notes: my father was very aware of the historic importance of the whole scandal, as well as absolutely loathing Nixon, and he let me stay home from school to watch the hearings once they started. I am now married to a younger man (okay, only eight years younger so I’m not a terribly bad cougar) who doesn’t remember Watergate at all! Also, I did an internship in Washington, DC in the fall of 1978, so not that long after, and the closest grocery store was in the Watergate complex. By that point, “Watergate” was this huge concept, so I envisioned some sort of huge, scary building, but it’s just a fairly modern-looking apartment/office complex with several shops and stores, and it was weird to be buying toilet paper and coffee in such a historic location.
- Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. I had just had my bat mitzvah and was feeling extremely Jewish – I was also at a junior high with only a few other Jewish kids (in Orange County, CA), but our classmates almost treated us like we’d lost relatives, that was reassuring.
- Nixon visited China. I know now it was an important historic breakthrough, but all any of my friends and I noticed was that he brought back giant pandas that were SO CUTE!
- The Vietnam War was still going on – and we felt personally connected. I had several friends whose brothers were of draft age, and one got drafted but was a Quaker so he got Conscientious Objector status. Several of us wore POW bracelets, which were a fundraising project for veteran support, I think, and each was a metal band with a soldier’s name on it you were supposed to wear until he was released. (It would have been much easier if we had those rubber wristbands all the kids have now – those things were hard and hurt, plus they left a weird stain on your wrist, but that was somewhat a badge of honor.)
- 1972 election: Orange County had even fewer Democrats than Jews, but my parents were die-hard liberals, so I solicited votes for George McGovern. Who lost by a landslide.
- The early environmental movement: We had a hippie history teacher who started The Treedom Club, which did large group bike rides and collected old newspapers to recycle. It felt very radical and progressive to recycle papers – so of course I sound like a crochety old lady when I tell my kids there was actually a time before recycling bins were everywhere!
Some notes on pop culture:
Top movies included:
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- The Godfather (wasn’t allowed to see it at 13)
- What’s Up, Doc? (didn’t see it til much later – thought Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal were the weirdest pairing)
- Behind The Green Door, Deliverance, and Deep Throat (totally not allowed to see any of them)
My favorites of the year’s top 20 were Cabaret and Sounder (anyone else remember that touching story of a family’s dog in the rural South?).
It was a great year for television; top shows included:
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- MASH: loved it, my friends and I all had crushes on Alan Alda!
- Bob Newhart (version 1): on Saturday nights, my parents watched All In The Family, Maude, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart, followed by The Carol Burnett Show. If we interrupted them for anything other than major blood loss, we’d be disinherited.
I loved all those shows; it actually took my dad a while to let us watch All In The Family (he thought it was too out there and sophisticated, even though he loved it, but then he decided it was historical, and he was right!).
There were some great top songs in addition to many singles from Tapestry
“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Roberta Flack), “American Pie” (Don McLean), and “Candy Man” (Sammy Davis Jr.). Another top song was America’s “A Horse With No Name,” and I vividly remember the school bus driver playing the radio, and the station was having a contest to name the horse.
Looking up the top books of the year was so enlightening – some I expected, like All Creatures Great & Small and The Stepford Wives, and they seem very much part of 1972 culture, but several of the top books published that year are still huge hits today, like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. (Of course, at 13 I was far too sophisticated to be reading children’s books so I missed all these til I had my own kids!) Another top book for the year was Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. That year, Bradbury was a visiting professor at Cal State Fullerton, so my “gifted” class (sort of a precursor to GATE) got to go watch him lecture and then have a Q&A with him. It was like getting to meet Shakespeare; I had already written Bradbury a fan letter earlier that year. (I had just found out that Carolyn Keene, the Nancy Drew author, wasn’t a real person but a pen name for various writers-for-hire, so I wrote to Bradbury to tell him I hoped he wasn’t a conglomeration, and he wrote back a sweet note, on a notecard with The Halloween Tree illustration, saying “Yes, I am real!”, and then I got to see for myself. Normally there isn’t much good about being 13, but that experience made it almost an endurable year!)
Personal memories: reminiscing about being 13 makes me feel like Elizabeth Perkins’ character in Big, when she tells Tom Hanks, “I’ve been there already, I’m not going back.” I was mostly pretty unhappy (and I’m convinced anyone who was popular and happy at 13 is a superficial adult not worth knowing”¦), not to mention that as a late-bloomer who skipped a grade, I looked like I was 9 (and since the other girls had already started puberty, I was convinced I’d never need a bra or be able to bear children, although I gamely “borrowed nickels” once a month to create the illusion I’d started my period). But that year had some wonderful high points, or at least some of those vivid memories (which, when I recount to my kids, create major eye-rolling, so I am very grateful to this project for an opportunity to share!).
In 1972, the high school which I was due to attend in the fall changed its dress code so that girls were allowed to wear pants. Not jeans, mind you, or anything low-rise or bell-bottom, but it was a huge deal. Looking back on it, the no-pants rule seems medieval! (Of course, the clothes we wore were pretty silly – crocheted vests were really big, and I remember a favorite outfit was a yellow knit polo-type shirt which I wore with purple bell-bottoms and a macrame belt I’d made myself, complete with yellow & purple beads to tie the whole thing together. (Sarah Jessica Parker, eat your heart out!)
1972 was also the year my junior high integrated the home ec/shop classes. Previously, girls all had to take home ec (cooking/sewing) and boys had to take shop (woodworking, some metalwork, some auto stuff). That year, they required us all to take both; again, it seems so weird that I can remember anachronisms like gender divided curriculum or girls not being allowed to wear pants. (I can’t believe I’m old enough to tell these stories – I remember my mother telling me about being kicked out of her sorority, because she didn’t wear a girdle every day and she dated my father, who was Jewish. Now I can tell my kids that I remember when girls were advised not to make boys feel bad by doing better than them at sports or in school; my mother was pretty advanced in telling me not to do that, but understand that the girls who played dumb would be more popular, and she was right.)
One thing that hasn’t changed for girls, unfortunately, is body dysmorphia. I was the 8th grade valedictorian which required sitting in the front row. At that time, the two choices for girls’ dressy dresses were micromini or long Laura Ashley-type dresses, and I insisted I had to have a long dress so it would cover my fat thighs. At the time, I was 4’11” and weighed about 90 lbs, and my mother thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, but she helped me sew my graduation dress and didn’t tease me about it until I was grown up (and was considerably taller & heavier!).
It was also the year I had a massive crush on Jeff Hassett, who was one of the cool kids but I knew him from math team (yes, I was the only girl on math team, which as you can imagine did not help my social life). So at a school dance, I said, “Hey Jeff, do you want to dance?” and he said “Yes, but not with you!” (I teased Jeff about this at our 30th reunion, and he was a good sport about it!)
I wish I could tell every 13-year-old girl (including my 13-year-old self) that she will survive this time and be stronger for it, which is the advice most mothers give, including mine. But I also want to tell those girls, hang on to some of your memories, even if they’re painful at the moment. (When Jeff Hassett turned me down, I was really upset, but oh it was great fun to rib him about it decades later!, plus it makes a terrific story.) Who knows, in 40 years you might be able to write about those experiences in the 2053 version of Persephone Magazine!